GM's Malibu smashes first-month sales target

DETROIT Wed Nov 21, 2007 6:15pm EST

General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Global Product Development Bob Lutz talks to reporters during the Reuters Auto Summit in Detroit, Michigan November 20, 2007. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Global Product Development Bob Lutz talks to reporters during the Reuters Auto Summit in Detroit, Michigan November 20, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

DETROIT (Reuters) - The new Chevrolet Malibu has topped General Motors Corp's (GM.N) sales expectations in its debut month on the market by a wide margin, a senior GM executive told Reuters.

Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman and product development chief, told the Reuters Autos Summit in Detroit that GM appeared on track to sell about 3,000 of the new mid-size sedans in November, far higher than its projection for about 500 in the initial month.

"Dealers do not have the car because they're selling as fast as they get them," Lutz said on Tuesday.

The Malibu is part of a product offensive at GM that aims to reestablish the top U.S. automaker in a segment dominated by Japanese rivals, led by Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T).

"We thought that we would have about 3,500 (Malibus) at dealers and that we would retail about 500," Lutz said. "Instead it appears for November the retail number is going to be 3,000 and there are going to be 500 at dealers, which means most Chevrolet dealers do not have a car because they're selling as fast as they get them."

The 2008 Malibu, which features new exterior styling and a revamped interior, has been well reviewed by auto critics, as has GM's new luxury sedan, the Cadillac CTS.

Lutz said the Cadillac, named Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine this week, was bringing in "a lot of import trades" at dealerships.

Taken together, he said the two cars showed GM was regaining a reputation it enjoyed in "the 1950s and 1960s" for making "the best looking cars, the best riding cars and the most desirable cars."

Separately, Lutz said GM had misjudged the relative demand for two new crossover utility vehicles built on the same platform: the Buick Enclave and the Saturn Outlook.

The Buick Enclave has outsold the Saturn model by a wide margin, even among the younger buyers that GM had expected would be drawn to Saturn.

"It just shows you how the best laid plans go awry," Lutz said.

As of the end of October, GM had an inventory of Outlooks equivalent to 118 days of sales, while the equivalent number for the Enclave was just 27 days, according to industry tracking service IRN Inc.

The two models are built in the same GM plant outside Lansing, Michigan, and Lutz said GM would adjust production to bring output of the two models more in line with demand.

Some would-be Enclave buyers have had to wait weeks to get the vehicle, he said.

"The Saturn Outlook has been a little slower than we expected," he said. "I think that's partly because there aren't enough Saturn dealers, and secondly, there isn't the brand awareness for Saturn."

By contrast, Lutz said GM planners were surprised by the strong response to the Buick brand, which had struggled in recent years to attract younger buyers.

"All of the sudden the fact that it says Buick doesn't matter. In fact, they think it's kind of cool -- it's kind of a reverse chic," he said.

The Malibu competes against the likes of the Honda Accord (7267.T), Nissan Altima (7201.T) and Toyota Camry. The Cadillac CTS competes against the BMW 335i (BMWG.DE) and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (DAIGn.DE), among others.

(For summit blog: summitnotebook.reuters.com/)

(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Braden Reddall)

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